Will Brandenburg leads U.S. men on Finland’s tough Levi Black course,
but Jean-Baptiste Grange leads the pack for the first win of the men’s
World Cup season BY HANK MCKEE PHOTOS BY GEPA
Jean-Baptiste Grange. The name drips French. The 2009 World Cup
slalom champion, Grange sidelined himself 11 months ago, skipping his
first real chance at Olympic glory to have surgery on a single ligament in
his right knee. Few even knew he had a knee problem. He had damaged
it in the Dec. 6 GS at Beaver Creek, but never fell. The injury wasn’t revealed to the public until he was home in France and announced three
days after the race that his 2010 season was over. It was a big-picture
thing. He hoped he could prolong his career by taking care of the problem before more damage was done. Good decision.
After the first completed race of the men’s World Cup, a slalom at Levi,
Finland, on Nov. 14, Grange now reigns as the WC standings leader.
And he also leads the slalom standings — at least until the second of
10 slaloms is held Dec. 12. Grange will no doubt be favored in that race,
the only men’s slalom this season on French soil, at Val d’Isere.
Slalom is volatile and it is precise. Even minor factors can spell the
difference. The race in Finland on Nov. 14 highlighted that. It called for
An Austrian — team coach Christian Hoeflehner — set the first course,
and he set it for his tribe, as fast as he could. The strategy backfired.
The surface was injected hard, but, in the word of the racers, “grippy.”
Skis hooked up and didn’t release and Hoeflehner had left no chance
for recovery, particularly not for anyone still getting used to new ski set-ups, and everyone was.
Thirty-seven percent of the field exited in the first run. Others, like the
winner of the last slalom last season, Felix Neureuther, failed to make
the top- 30 flip for a second run. But there was Grange, appearing in top
form, with a 0.44 first-run lead over Italian journeyman Cristian Deville,
and a half-second over Manfred Pranger, the only first-seed Austrian
who would see the next run.
Later, Grange said the fact that he did not expect to win may have been
to his benefit. “I was not looking for anything special,” he said, “just to
get my sensations back, and they came back quicker than I thought.”
His rehab from his injury has him feeling “less frail,” he said, and missing last season has left him more focused.
The cruel first run had created disappointment around the alpine globe.
Low bib numbers 5 (Benjamin Raich), 6 (Reinfried Herbst), 8 (Michael
Janyk) and 11 (Marcel Hirscher) were commiserating after getting caught
up in Hoeflehner’s course and others — including Bode Miller — had